Solar panels are becoming increasingly popular all the time, largely due to concern for the planet, the environment and the need to reduce our carbon footprint. It’s becoming more common for new domestic properties to be built with solar panels already fitted, but how much can it benefit you to install them in your existing property?
The evidence is overwhelmingly in favour of solar panels being an extremely efficient tool in domestic energy production. A 4kWp system (which is usually the standard size of an installation) generates around 3,800 kWh of electricity each year in the South of England. This isn’t far off a typical household’s energy consumption, so it could be enough to account for all of your electricity. Of course, some areas receive more sun than others, but even in places like Scotland where energy generation will be less, you can still make 3,200 kWh, which is more than three quarters of the typical household usage.
Your main consideration will be where to place your solar panels, as you’ll need to be able to capture as much sunlight as possible for the utmost efficiency. Some roofs will be more suitable than others because of the direction they face in, but most households would be able to get reasonable use out of a solar panel system. Even if they’re not going to be able to take you completely ‘off grid’, they can make a very worthwhile contribution to reducing your household bills, and what’s more, you’ll be reducing your carbon footprint whilst doing so.
Micro-CHP stands for micro combined heat and power. It is a system which is able to generate heat and electricity at the same time, using one energy source to do so. It works with mains gas or LPG, and makes use of this in its energy production. Whilst it isn’t completely carbon neutral, it is still considered to be low carbon, because it is a more energy-efficient method of production than simply using fossil fuels and national grid electricity to meet all household needs.
Micro-CHPs are easy to use in a domestic setting. They are a similar size to a standard boiler, and can be either wall hung or freestanding depending on your preference. They’re a relatively new technology for home use, though they’ve been available for commercial use for a number of years.
It can be very cost-effective for you to install a Micro-CHP system in the long run. Your energy bills will be lower, and if the system generates enough energy, you can take advantage of a feed-in tariff to earn some money from it.
Biomass refers to living organisms which can be burnt to provide energy. Some of the most popular biomass sources are short rotation coppice, willow, poplar, oilseed rape and various types of grasses.
Most importantly, the process is fundamentally different to burning fossil fuels because biomass is a sustainable, renewable method of energy production. The process is sometimes considered to be carbon neutral – this is to do with the fact that trees and plants take carbon dioxide out of the air whilst growing. However, there has been a lot of debate on this topic and the conclusions are not definitive. Therefore, the easiest way to make the process as environmentally friendly as possible is to replant, replenishing the trees and plants which are being used as fuel.
There are a number of ways to use biomass energy within homes – sometimes people are already doing so without even realising. The simplest is to use a log burner or stove to heat your home, as this can be an attractive design feature as well as being environmentally friendly.
Stoves can also be fitted with a back boiler which will heat water. The boiler burns wood in the form of logs, chips or pellets, and can generate heat and water for the whole house. This heating method can also result in significant cost savings.
Sometimes, more than one property is communally heated using a biomass boiler system, though this is more common in some countries than others. Boilers to burn wood tend to be larger, so they can be useful for heating groups of properties like blocks of flats.
Large-scale use of biomass energy has its downfalls as well as its advantages, but it’s a simple and pleasant way to heat individual homes, as well as being cost effective.
The first question that you may be asking is, what the hell is a heat-sink? A heat-sink is a pretty great piece of technology which basically takes us back to the basics. A series of tubes a laid under ground (beneath your garden lawn, for instance), and filled with water, during the day this water is heated up by the ambient heat energy found in the top layer of ground due to the sun, which is then converted into energy. While the majority comes from the energy from the sun, a portion of it is also from the energy released by the earth, meaning that you’ll be generating energy all day long.
The benefits of a heat sink basically are that they are relatively subtle, in that the majority of the stuff going on happens underground and out of view, so for those for whom this is a concern this is a good option. The materials used are also very basic, and offer a far more affordable alternative for solar panels.
Ethanol, unlike many other types of fuel, is actually clean and renewable. This is because ethanol is refined from plant sugars, which can be grown and supplied in order to meet demand, and as plants absorb carbon dioxide to grow and develop, any production of carbon dioxide due to the processing of these plants is equivalent to what they absorbed to grow.
The benefits of using ethanol as a substitute for fossil fuels, are clear and far reaching. First of all, it is clean and renewable, which means that we don’t have to worry about a dwindling supply, and pollution in general. Secondly, it allows us to keep much of the already developed technology in comparison to the switch to renewable energy which requires us to change a lot more technology. Thirdly, any country/area can get involved and start to grow ethanol.
The downsides are that all of this has yet to be proven viable. Ethanol production has thus far been shown to be too costly and requires too much space to be done on an industrial scale. So, the more poignant question would appear to be; whether or not ethanol can be a reliable source of energy?